The Block 5 variant of the Falcon 9 launching Crew Dragon during the Demo-2 mission from Kennedy Space Center on May 30, 2020. The rocket's distinguishing black thermal-protection coating on the interstage is discernible.
The main changes from Block 3 to Block 5 are higher-thrust engines and improvements to the landing legs. Numerous other small changes helped streamline recovery and re-usability of first-stage boosters, increase production rate, and optimize re-usability. Each Block 5 booster is designed to fly 10 times with only minor attention and up to 100 times with refurbishment.
In 2018, Falcon 9 Block 5 succeeded the transitional Block 4 version. The maiden flight launched the satellite Bangabandhu-1 on May 11, 2018. The CRS-15 mission on June 29, 2018 was the last Block 4 version of Falcon 9 to be launched. This was the transition to an all-Block 5 fleet.
In April 2017, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said that Block 5 will feature 7–8% more thrust by uprating the engines (from 176,000 pounds-force (780,000 N) to 190,000 pounds-force (850,000 N) per engine). Block 5 includes an improved flight control system for an optimized angle of attack on the descent, lowering landing fuel requirements.
For reusability endurance:
expected to be able to be launched at least 10 times; achieved in 2021
a set of retractable landing legs for rapid recovery and shipping.
the Octaweb structure is bolted together instead of welded, reducing manufacturing time.
Since the debut of Block 5, SpaceX has continued to iterate on its design, manufacturing processes, and operational procedures. Among other changes, the initial Block 5 boosters did not have the redesigned composite overwrapped pressure vessel (COPV2) tanks. The first booster with COPV2 tanks was booster B1047 on the Es'hail 2 mission on November 15, 2018, and the second booster using the COPV2 tanks was CRS-16/B1050, which had its first launch on December 5, 2018. To improve the rocket's performance, SpaceX has tweaked throttle settings and separation timings. Later Block 5 boosters are also easier to prepare for flight, so SpaceX "prefer to retire" older cores by assigning them to expendable missions when possible.
Mission extension kitsedit
SpaceX CRS-18 featured a Falcon mission-extension kit to the standard second stage, which equipped the second stage with a dark-painted band (for thermal control), extra COPVs for pressurization control, and additional TEA-TEB ignition fluid. The upgrades afforded the second stage with the endurance needed to inject the payloads directly into geosynchronous or high energy orbit where the second stage needs hours after launch. Based on mission requirements, they are Medium Coast & Long Coast kits, i.e., the number of helium bottles for pressurization and added batteries for power and other hardware to make sure that the fuel and stages systems operate as long as needed.
Merlin 1D Vacuum short nozzle versionedit
Transporter-7 mission launch debuted a new Merlin 1D Vacuum nozzle extension design or variant aimed at increasing cadence and reducing costs. This new nozzle extension is shorter and, as a result, decreasing both performance and material usage; but with this nozzle, the engine produces 10% less thrust in space. This nozzle is only used on lower-performance missions, as it decreases the amount of material needed by 75%. This means that SpaceX can launch over three times as many missions with the same amount of rare Niobium metal as with the longer design. As of June 2023, the characteristics of the small nozzle second stage are unknown.
The NASA certification processes of the 2010s specified seven flights of any launch vehicle without major design changes before the vehicle would be NASA-certified for human spaceflight, and allowed to fly NASA astronauts.
The Block 5 design launched astronauts for the first time on May 30, 2020, on a NASA-contracted flight labelled Crew Dragon Demo-2. This was the first crewed orbital spaceflight launched from the United States since the final Space Shuttle mission in 2011, and the first ever operated by a commercial provider.
^ abTransporter-7 mission launch debuted a new Merlin 1D Vacuum nozzle extension design aimed at increasing cadence and reducing costs. This new nozzle extension is shorter and, as a result, the engine has a lower specific impulse and therefore performance. Due to this, it will only fly on missions that don't need Falcon 9's full performance capability.
^"Falcon User's Guide" (PDF). January 14, 2019. Retrieved February 26, 2019.
^ abcd"Falcon 9". SpaceX. November 16, 2012. Retrieved April 30, 2016.
^ abcd"Capabilities & Services (2016)". SpaceX. November 28, 2012. Retrieved May 3, 2016.
^Clark, Stephen. "SpaceX launch sets record for Falcon 9 payload mass – Spaceflight Now". Retrieved January 26, 2023.
^SpaceX. "Bangabandhu Satellite-1 Mission". Retrieved February 25, 2019 – via YouTube.
^SpaceX. "FALCON 9". SpaceX. Retrieved March 2, 2019.
^@elonmusk (December 17, 2015). "-340 F in this case. Deep cryo increases density and amplifies rocket performance. First time anyone has gone this low for O2. [RP-1 chilled] from 70F to 20 F" (Tweet). Retrieved December 19, 2015 – via Twitter.
^"Falcon 9 & Falcon Heavy". Retrieved February 3, 2021. The v1.2 design was constantly improved upon over time, leading to different sub-versions or "Blocks". The initial design, flying on the maiden flight was thus referred to as Block 1. The final design which has largely stayed static since 2018 is the Block 5 variant.
^"SpaceX launch of first "block 5" Falcon 9 rocket scrubbed to Friday". Retrieved July 1, 2021.
^"Falcon-9 v1.2 (Block 5) (Falcon-9FT (Block 5))". Gunter's Space Page. Retrieved June 27, 2022.
^NASA (February 17, 2017). "NASA Holds Pre-launch Briefing at Historic Pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center". Youtube. This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
^ abSpaceX Test-Fires New Falcon 9 Block 5 Rocket Ahead of Maiden Flight (Updated). Robin Seemangal, Popular Mechanics. May 4, 2018.
^ abcSpaceX is about to land a whole lot more rockets. Loren Grush, The Verge. July 22, 2018.
^"SpaceX flies historic 10th mission of a Falcon 9 as Starlink constellation expands". May 8, 2021. Retrieved July 1, 2021.
^Elon Musk on Twitter: I don’t want be cavalier, but there isn’t an obvious limit. 100+ flights are possible. Some parts will need to be replaced or upgraded.
^Musk, Elon (June 24, 2017). "Flying with larger & significantly upgraded hypersonic grid fins. Single piece cast & cut titanium. Can take reentry heat with no shielding". @elonmusk. Retrieved March 16, 2018.
^"SpaceX Test-Fires New Falcon 9 Block 5 Rocket Ahead of Maiden Flight (Updated)". Popular Mechanics. May 4, 2018.
^"Octaweb Structure". www.thespacetechie.com. July 10, 2021.
^"I am Andy Lambert, SpaceX's VP of Production. Ask me anything about production & manufacturing, and what it's like to be a part of our team!". reddit.com. April 24, 2018.
^ ab"SpaceX Building Airline-Type Flight Ops For Launch | Aviation Week Network". aviationweek.com. Retrieved January 15, 2023.
^ abClark, Stephen. "New helium tank for SpaceX crew launches still waiting to fly – Spaceflight Now". Retrieved December 6, 2018.
^ ab"SpaceX landing mishap won't affect upcoming launches". SpaceNews.com. December 5, 2018. Retrieved December 6, 2018.
^Clark, Stephen. "SpaceX launches heaviest payload on Falcon 9 rocket – Spaceflight Now". Retrieved January 27, 2023.
^Starbase Tour with Elon Musk [PART 2 // Summer 2021], retrieved January 15, 2023
^Ralph, Eric (October 11, 2022). "SpaceX's first Falcon Heavy launch in three years eyes late-October liftoff". TESLARATI. Retrieved October 11, 2022.
^"Falcon rockets use three configurations of their upper stage. How are they different?".
^"NASA, Partners Update Commercial Crew Launch Dates – Commercial Crew Program". blogs.nasa.gov. Retrieved February 26, 2019. This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
^"SpaceX Speeding Astronauts to Space Station in Landmark Trip". Bloomberg News. May 30, 2020.
Link to Falcon User's Guide, by SpaceX. Updated in January 2019 specifically for Block 5 upgrades.